Thursday, October 5, 2017

Why it’s Vital for Contractors to be Certified When Working with Asbestos-Containing Materials

by Meredith Keller from Karl Environmental Group.

Do you ever wonder what the big deal is about asbestos? Why must everyone be certified to work with this seemingly innocuous and ubiquitous material? If you think that asbestos is just another mineral or not tightly regulated by any regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), then keep reading to find out why there’s more to the story.

Imagine a scenario where, in an older office building, the building’s roof had a leak resulting in water intrusion into the call center area, and onto the ceiling tiles, destroying and staining many of them. The head of maintenance decides, once the roof is fixed, to hire contractors to remove and replace the ceiling tiles with new ones. The contractors arrive and set up their work area as normal, knocking down the tiles, removing all debris and throwing it in an open dumpster for trash pick-up.

Unknowingly, these contractors and the head of maintenance for the company have just violated several major regulations and put the hundreds of employees at serious risk for their health – many older buildings, including schools, contain ceiling tiles and other materials composed of asbestos. If the tiles contained asbestos, the consequences of such a simple act may become a financial mishap, causing damaged reputations to all who are involved, and creating a potentially serious health issue for several parties. Let’s study the consequences of violating the regulatory agency’s laws that pertain to working around and with asbestos-containing materials (ACM).

The Federal Government, through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), regulates the production, use and disposal of ACM. Asbestos is still being used in the production of some new materials and has not been banned from use in the United States as many people believe. If a contractor is performing renovation or demolition activities on a building containing ACM, then their activities are regulated under the Asbestos National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP).

The penalties for not following the standard procedures, such as not sending in a notification prior to the removal of any ACM, include:
  • Administrative orders or penalties
  • Civil actions filed in a federal court
  • Criminal actions filed in a federal court with criminal sanctions
There can also be fines, legal fees and major project delays. In addition to a ruined reputation, if legal action has been taken against the contracting company, the company and their future construction sites will be under increased scrutiny by the regulatory agencies. If disposal activities are not up to the regulatory standards, a fine of up to $32,500 per day may be incurred along with potential loss of work site permits. It is important to note where the work site is as different federal, state and local regulations may apply depending upon the location.

Now, as for the health issues pertaining to exposure to asbestos fibers, these are also an important reason why contractors should be certified and aware of the risks. The reason this mineral is so highly regulated is because the fibers that are released when ACM is deteriorated or damaged are minute and are capable of becoming lodged in a person’s lungs indefinitely. Once in the lungs, the invisible fibers can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. All of these diseases disrupt the normal functioning of the lungs to varying degrees, potentially leading to premature death. Contractors who smoke and are exposed to asbestos are especially at risk.

In order to refrain from potentially exposing yourself and other people while completing a job, contractors and workers can become certified by enrolling in state-approved training courses. The Asbestos Worker course is 32 hours and once complete the refresher course must be completed every year (8 hours). Information covered in this class includes health effects, regulations, hands-on activities (PPE, work area preparation, clean-up, decontamination, etc.) and purposes of air monitoring.

The Asbestos Supervisor course is 40 hours and once complete the refresher course must be completed every year as well (8 hours). Information covered in this class includes air monitoring procedures (including demonstrations), regulations, hands-on activities (personal hygiene, work practices, etc.), safety hazards and supervisory techniques, to name a few topics. In addition to certification of the workers and supervisors of a job site, employees can also be certified as Asbestos Building Inspectors, rendering them capable of investigating and sampling for ACM in a building. It is important to sample and know the materials before any work is started to ensure the contractor is within NESHAP and EPA regulations.

These classes will provide students with the ability to classify different types of ACM, identify the category to which they belong and readily identify suspect ACM. This knowledge is crucial for understanding whether the project falls under NESHAP regulations. In fact, any renovation/demolition project falls under NESHAP as it must first be determined if ACM is present at the work site or not. For more information on these regulations, please visit the EPA’s website. For more information regarding Asbestos training, visit Karl Environmental Group’s website or Zack Academy.

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